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Poster: Skobud Date: Dec 14, 2010 7:19am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Who was Pearly Baker?

I am listening to Dick’s Pick’s 12 this morning and it has a beautiful Wharf Rat which comes at the end of an amazing little jam sequence and it got me wondering again…Who was Pearly Baker, really….I had this discussion on another almost defunct site a few years ago, and Im not sure we came to any conclusion..I always said it was the China White he loved smoking so much. Others said it was a woman or perhaps his mother, and other people thought it was show business in general or perhaps even himself... Its an obvious metaphor, but for what? Yes, these are the types of things that keep my mind so preoccupied at work all the while preserving my sanity during the daily ritual of mundane tasks that I call my job…Anyways, some incredible storytelling right here…..

Old man down, way down down, down by the docks of the city.
Blind and dirty, asked me for a dime, a dime for a cup of coffee.
I got no dime but I got some time to hear his story.
My name is August West, and I love my Pearly Baker best more than my wine.
More than my wine - more than my maker, though he's no friend of mine.

Everyone said, I'd come to no good, I knew I would Pearly, believe them.
Half of my life, I spent doin' time for some other fucker's crime,
The other half found me stumbling around drunk on Burgundy wine.

But I'll get back on my feet someday,
The good Lord willin', if He says I may.
I know that the life I'm livin's no good,
I'll get a new start, live the life I should.
I'll get up and fly away, I'll get up and fly away, fly away.

Pearly's been true, true to me, true to my dyin' day he said,
I said to him, I said to him, "I'm sure she's been."
I said to him, "I'm sure she's been true to you."

I got up and wandered, wandered downtown, nowhere to go but just to hang around.
I've got a girl, named Bonnie Lee, I know that girl's been true to me.
I know she's been, I'm sure she's been true to me.

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Poster: fenario80 Date: Dec 14, 2010 9:28am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

My possibly non-negotiable two cents: I always thought that she was a real person, someone who the WR loved and who maybe even loved him, once upon a time, a long, long time ago. The memory of her is one of the very few things that keep him going, even though, as the listener recognizes almost immediately, she's just a fantasy at this point - a boat that sailed a long time ago.

The song is basically about addiction, and how every addict always believes that he has it in him to pull it together virtually at any time and somehow step back into a normal life. Another fantasy. Maybe the most heartbreaking line Hunter ever wrote is "I'll get up and fly away!" because we know that ain't never gonna happen. Or is it: "I've got a girl, named Bonnie Lee ..." because we recognize the WR inside the narrator even if he doesn't.

One man's opinion; you know what it's worth. At the very least we can agree that it's a great song.

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Poster: dizbuster Date: Dec 14, 2010 10:46am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

"I've got a girl, named Bonnie Lee ..." I always thought this was the profound statement. That most of us have had our hearts truly "broken" at some point and we can all feel WR's pain and know that WR could have been any of us had the cards been dealt differently..............just my two cents

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Poster: barongsong Date: Dec 14, 2010 10:12am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

Excellent. I think this song has meant so many things to so many people at one point or another so potently, that whatever the original meaning may have been it took on the different roles for everyone at the times when it was needed. Sign of a truly great song IMHO.

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Poster: LiveMusicMike Date: Aug 11, 2013 2:19am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

after reading some of the posts...this is how I interpret this song.
According to August West Pearlyy Baker was the person that he relied on, kept him sober and made life worth living and when she disappeared for whatever reason his life fell apart.
The narrator hears this story and thinks of his own women Bonnie Lee knowing without his kickstand he might fall down too.
I believe it is the narrator relating to August west.


This post was modified by LiveMusicMike on 2013-08-11 09:19:21

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Poster: bookends Date: Dec 14, 2010 10:19am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

I always figured it was the WR's guitar. Pearl inlays, etc., and it's the only thing he can't part with...

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Poster: Skobud Date: Dec 14, 2010 11:36am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

I never thought of the Guitar...That's awesome. These names too just make the song. You got August West, Pearly Baker and Bonnie Lee. Almost has a western sounding theme to it now that I look at it.

Maybe Pearly is about anything you are "addicted" to, not just drugs..Fame, women in general, making music or whatever. The only thing we can rule out is booze, cause he loves pearly more than his wiii-y-iine....See there is another thing, he compares his love for Pearly to his love for wine, and he talks about stumbling around drunk..Hmmm

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Poster: snori Date: Dec 14, 2010 4:02pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

I still think Pearly is his ex-girlfriend. When he is wrongly banged up she agrees with everyone who said he'd come to no good (I take the 'I knew I would' as a contradiction to them)and abandons him. So he spends the second half of his life drunk and deluding himself that she still cares. The narrator offers words of encouragement but is left with a few doubts himself as a result of this meeting.

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Poster: fenario80 Date: Dec 14, 2010 11:50am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

ah ... irony. He SAYS he loves Pearly more than his wine, but which one has he spent his whole life with?

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Poster: Uncle_John Date: Dec 14, 2010 9:33pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

Isn't this is what makes Hunter's writing so masterful?

On first listen, Pearly is a delusional wino's long lost love - and it's a great song that tells a simple story. Now add the irony of borrowing a prohibitionist's name for this role and you have a whole new level. But then the ambiguous phrasing allows for all these other perfectly valid and rich interpretations... One of his finest songs.

On a somewhat related note, we had our chimney swept a few months back. The sweep brought in a 55 gallon drum topped with a vacuum unit made by the August West company.

- John

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Poster: jerrys beard Date: Dec 15, 2010 7:27am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

YES! It is also what, in my opinion, creates the incredible "staying" power of the Dead. There are layers upon layers upon layers, both in the music and in the lyrics. Then when you combine them, I love the musical composition of WR, it expands geometrically. Leads to seemingly endless permutations of any individual song...WR, DS, TOO...the list is endless. It is why I still listen to the Dead every day...it remains fresh and new.

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Poster: jerrys beard Date: Dec 15, 2010 7:27am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

YES! It is also what, in my opinion, creates the incredible "staying" power of the Dead. There are layers upon layers upon layers, both in the music and in the lyrics. Then when you combine them, I love the musical composition of WR, it expands geometrically. Leads to seemingly endless permutations of any individual song...WR, DS, TOO...the list is endless. It is why I still listen to the Dead every day...it remains fresh and new.

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Poster: jmb1 Date: Dec 14, 2010 7:28am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

PB was an Anti-Saloon league from 1903 to the early 1920's.

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Poster: fenario80 Date: Dec 14, 2010 12:03pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

I didn't know that; very droll of Hunter to use that name in a song about an old drunk.

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Poster: Skobud Date: Dec 14, 2010 8:26am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

I have the annotated lyrics and I read that...Im not so sure I believe it though, I mean, that Pearly was the Purely Baker that headed up the Anti Saloon league...I think that may be just a name that was used, but who knows..

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Poster: barongsong Date: Dec 14, 2010 7:48am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

I think your intuition may be correct, at least in the later years of the song. Would be curios if there was a different perspective also though.

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Poster: fenario80 Date: Dec 14, 2010 9:53am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

She's a metaphor for a "straight" life - one that doesn't include panhandling and straining isopropyl alcohol through wonder bread - the life that has permanently passed him by.

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Poster: sunmonster Date: Dec 14, 2010 12:18pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

I love this theory (wish I could claim it as my own - I found it some time ago at: http://www.well.com/conf/deadsongs.vue/topics/221/Wharf-Rat-page03.html )


Rather than assume Hunter made Pearly Baker a woman, I read the poem
as the narrator mistaking August West's statements . . .

My name is August West
and I love my Pearly Baker best
more than my wine
....more than My wine
more than my maker
though he's no friend of mine

Here, rather than assume "he's no friend of mine" applies to "my
maker," I'd argue it applies to Pearly Baker . . . August says I love
Pearly Baker better than wine or God, but Pearly's no friend of mine.
West knows who the Rev Baker is; and the next verse I think supports
this interpretation (of he's no friend of mine):

Everyone said
I'd come to no good
I knew I would
Pearly believed them

August is complaining here that everyone said the booze would do him
in; he didn't agree, but Pearly (Rev. Baker - the prohibitionist)
agreed with the assessment that booze is bad.

Later, we read this:

Pearly's been true
true to me, true to my dying day he said
I said to him:
I'm sure she's been
I said to him:
I'm sure she's been true to you

August says that Pearly (Rev Baker, the prohibitionist) was correct
(i.e. booze did me in.) The Narrator (not the author) misinterprets
this, assuming Purly is a woman who wronged West, and responds with
what he believes is sympathy, "I'm sure she's been true to you."

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Poster: fenario80 Date: Dec 14, 2010 12:58pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

This seemed like such a stretch, and I was so ready to just dismiss it as some English Lit guy with waaay too much time on his hands, but the truth is that, right or wrong, it's an interesting interpretation.

For me, this read streamlines the song's message quite a bit and adds a hint of the dark Hunter humor that seemed to have been missing, in the way the wanderer misunderstands what the Wharf Rat was saying. "Purely Baker was right: booze will mess up your life." "Oh, yeah? I got a girl, too." It also explains why there even is a wanderer, which is something I have wondered before about this song - "Why is it structured like a conversation? Why is it narrated?" Maybe the narrator is there just so that he can be unreliable ...

Not sure I buy it 100%, but it opens the song up in a really interesting direction, so many thanks for that.

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Poster: sunmonster Date: Dec 14, 2010 5:17pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Who was Pearly Baker?

Exactly. Buy it or not, it's a thoughtful and innovative interpretation.

Furthermore, whatever Hunter himself was thinking, if it helps us view the song in a new light, what's the harm?